A couple of weekends ago, Eric and I, accompanied by friends John and Sammy, drove four hours southeast to explore the Irish Wilderness, Missouri’s largest wilderness area. We hiked White’s Creek Trail, starting from the Camp Five Pond Trailhead, over two days. Although the loop is listed at 17.4 miles, most travelers have clocked it at closer to 20 miles. And, if you take the few spurs off the main loop to visit the Eleven Point River and springs, you might hike closer to 22 miles, as we did.
The Irish Wilderness is so named because it was once inhabited by a group of Irish people, led by a priest, who were seeking escape from oppression in St. Louis. They mysteriously disappeared from the area after the Civil War. Although there is nothing substantial left of their civilization, we did find part of an old iron at the campsite next to Fiddler Spring. It is important to note that most of the maps for this trail online are not accurate. The one we downloaded from AllTrails was accurate in some places, but completely different from the trail we followed in others.
Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed
The forecast for Friday night called for thunderstorms, so we stayed at my family’s property that night. Otherwise we would have had to set up camp at the trailhead in the dark and in the rain, which didn’t sound like a particularly appealing start to the weekend. This allowed us to be well-rested and with only an hour drive ahead of us Saturday morning before we could hit the trail. Turning off County Road J into the wilderness area, we all were awestruck by the impressive pine-tree-lined road to the Camp Five Pond parking lot. Although the water in Camp Five Pond could be filtered if necessary, it was rather slimy, so we recommend arriving with your water ready to go. After spraying down with lots of bug spray, we excitedly headed off down the left side of the pond to the trailhead.
Right or Left at the Fork?
The general recommendation from others who have hiked White’s Creek Trail is to do it counterclockwise (right at the fork). From what we read online, those who hiked clockwise seemed to have a lot more trouble following the trail. Going counterclockwise also made more sense for us in terms of water sources — Bliss Spring is located 8 miles from the trailhead, followed by easy access to White’s Creek about 6 miles later, where we camped, and Fiddler’s Spring is 5 miles from the end of the trail. However, for those looking for a day hike, going clockwise to Fiddler’s Spring and back would make for a beautiful excursion.
Bliss Spring is the first water source on White’s Creek Trail if you go counterclockwise. To get there, go right when you come across a four-way intersection of trails. Going straight will take you to the edge of the Eleven Point River, where Bliss Spring feeds into it. The trail loop itself continues to the left. The spur to Bliss Spring is no more than a tenth of a mile. We stopped here for lunch, a water refill, and to cool our feet in the icy water for a bit. There is a nice fire ring and a small flat area to camp near the spring as well.
The Eleven Point
After lunch, we took the second spur off the main trail to the Eleven Point River, where we climbed down the steep slope and waded across the mealy bank to cool off for a while. The river was running too swiftly for us to do a lot of swimming, but we enjoyed wading in the shade and watching the boats go by. We even saw a group of scuba divers floating down the river! It was in this area I found some of the weirdest mushrooms I’ve ever seen: Oak Bracket. It’s apparently a fairly common parasitic polypore that grows mostly at the base of live oak trees. It oozes yellow and orange liquid from its pores, making it look almost gem-encrusted.
After relaxing in the sun for a bit to dry off, we collected our things, put on fresh socks, and headed back to the fork by Bliss Spring. We took the final path to continue on the trail loop. the trail climbs steeply, offering breathtaking views of the Eleven Point River below. It was around this area where we found a destroying angel mushroom growing elegantly right along the trail. Destroying angels, one of the most deadly mushrooms, are easy to spot by their brilliant, beautiful white color and perfectly smooth cap. They also have veils and a sac-like structure at their base. You can read more about destroying angels and mushroom-foraging safety here. Despite their danger, I had never found a destroying angel before, so it was pretty cool.
About 6 miles past Bliss Spring, the trail runs along White’s Creek, which the loop is aptly named after. White’s Creek is absolutely beautiful. The water is blue and clear. We took a break here just to enjoy the view and the guys explored a cave on the other side of the water. This water source wasn’t listed on AllTrails, but it is a crucial waypoint in my opinion. Although we had planned to hike all the way to Fiddler’s Spring the first day, this spot was so beautiful we decided to set up camp at the first nice flat area. We found the perfect spot about 0.1 miles past the creek up a slight incline.
After setting up camp, making dinner, and having s’mores, we all headed back down to the creek to rinse off in the dark before bed. As John leaped across onto the gravel island ahead of us (with his incredibly long legs), we heard “Ohhh man that’s a BIG snake!”, and he quickly bounded back to the safety of the bank. The snake on the other side of the creek was the biggest I had ever seen — longer than my arm span. At the time, we thought it might be a cottonmouth, so I was out of there pretty quickly. However, upon further research when we got home, it turns out it was just a black rat snake.
The snake was not the extent of our wildlife encounters that weekend. A few hours into the night, Eric woke me up worried about a rustling in the woods nearby. I, unfortunately, am not terribly friendly when sleepy, so I promptly ignored him each of the three times he poked me and asked “Do you hear that?” and “What do you think that is?” because he was disturbing my sleep. Eventually, he shouted over to John and Sammy to ask their opinion. By this point, I was finally awake, and I must admit it did sound like something large traipsing around in the woods nearby. It could have been a solitary boar, a bear, or maybe just a large deer. It’s hard to say.
Where’s the Trail?
The next morning, we had breakfast and packed up, eager to start tackling the remaining 7-8 miles. Shortly past the campsite, we totally lost the trail. Luckily we had the GPS, which helped us determine which direction we needed to head to find the trail: straight up a long, steep ridge. I was glad we decided to stop earlier than planned the night before because the remaining distance to Fiddler’s Spring was more time-consuming than we thought due to this detour. After we found the trail again, we took a short breather before heading off again.
About 5 miles from the end of the trail, there is a marked offshoot trail about 0.1 miles long which takes you to Fiddler’s Spring. This spring is not quite as impressive as Bliss Spring, but still makes for a lovely stop. There is also a nice, although small, campsite here complete with a fire ring and some upside-down plastic bins for seats. After Fiddler’s Spring, the trail is fairly flat, climbing very slightly until you reach the trailhead. Several miles of the trail run through a wetland-type area, surrounded by tall grasses which are a haven for ticks, before reentering the forest for the last two miles until you reach the trailhead.
My Favorite Trail So Far
Although we hiked White’s Creek Trail on the hottest weekend of the year so far, and I had to pop four blisters when I got home afterward, it was my favorite backpacking experience so far. The Irish Wilderness is a beautiful, biodiverse ecosystem abundant with unique plants, flowers, mushrooms, and creatures. I hope to visit again in the fall when the leaves are turning and the air is cooler.